Today marks the most glittering night of the film calendar as the Oscars roll into the Dolby Theater in Los Angeles.
Hollywood’s best and brightest are set to don their best clothes and practice their best “I’m happy for Leo” face. This year’s ceremony has been mired in diversity controversy, but it’s also the most open awards in years, with several films vying for the position of Best Picture frontrunner.
There’s a dogged group of journalists looking to uncover shocking abuse, plucky investors betting against the big banks, Charlize Theron blasting a car through the desert and, of course, Leonardo DiCaprio being torn apart by an angry grizzly bear.
Below, a team of guest writers argue for each of the eight films nominated for Best Picture.
The Big Short
The Big Short was the last Best Picture nominee I went to see, mostly because the poster and subject matter made me think it was going to be a snoozefest about financial jargon I don’t understand and quite frankly don’t care about.
Not only is it not a snoozefest, but it’s actually fun – funny, even – with killer editing and some really great moments. It explains the US housing market bubble burst of 2008 in such a simple way that even a layman with no economic mind can understand why it happened and what that meant for the world at large.
I think it should win because it’s relevant and because it tackles serious subject matter in a humorous approach that’s relatable to most people. It’s never preachy, but approachable, kinda like having a chat with your mate in a pub who’s explaining complicated things by using beer and shot glasses as analogies.
It’s got a good pace, a great cast and, unlike The Revenant and Spotlight which deal with heavy subject matter in the gravest tones possible, The Big Short is, quite simply, a good time at the movies, with the added bonus of teaching you a thing or two.
Bridge of Spies
Spies and shady meetings might well be the meat of this drama/thriller’s plot, but really it’s a timely Frank Capra-esque fable that just happens to wear a John le Carré trench coat.
Helping to bring out the magic from (cold) warring nations and their bureaucrats is Steven Spielberg, who directs Tom Hanks through a Coen Brothers script with significantly better results than when Ethan and Joel tried it themselves in The Ladykillers. Funny moments throughout bear the brothers’ trademark, but under Spielberg’s hand they seem less like quirky comic beats and more like earned character moments.
In no small part is this down to Tom Hanks, whose righteous diplomat exudes the endless magnetic charm that he brings to every role. Mark Rylance, however, provides Bridge of Spies with its real foundation. Always knowing but resolutely unknowable, Rylance’s spy has a wry humour. His performance is a perfectly pitched study in being meek that feels more real than Eddie Redmayne’s array of tics ever have.
Plenty of Oscar contenders this year deal with historical figures, but unlike the trapper who’s as shallow as his grave or the lapsed Catholic reporters, Bridge of Spies has a distinctly humanistic quality where every individual is different and important, even when they’re the enemy.
Brooklyn is probably seen as a cosy or safe option for the Best Picture this year, but there’s much to be said for a film that isn’t relentless or exhausting. I’m looking at you, Leo.
I love seeing it alongside much more bombastic and showy fare, where every scene is screaming at the Academy to notice it.
Much has been said about Saoirse Ronan’s understated performance and she absolutely deserves her acting nod, but Emory Cohen has barely been mentioned in reviews and he is equally as good. Julie Walters and Jim Broadbent are great at supporting and little James DiGiacomo steals every scene he is in as Tony’s younger brother Frankie.
Yes, it is romantic and yes, it is absolutely a weepy, but this film speaks to a fundamental experience which is at the route of most our familial history. The story of emigration, particularly from Ireland, is nigh-on universal and I watched it thinking of my Irish Granny, who had been through the same fear, trepidation and excitement as Eilis (Ronan).
Brooklyn probably has the longest odds of any of the Best Pic nominees this year, but I would love to at least see Hornby picking up Best Adapted Screenplay. It would be well deserved.
And what is so wrong with a film that you would gladly share with your Granny?
Fiona Underhill is a teacher of Media and Film Studies.
Mad Max: Fury Road
George Miller’s crazy actioner Mad Max: Fury Road isn’t the typical film to win the Oscar for Best Picture. However, its non-stop action and immense visuals made it one of the most entertaining films of the year and it could definitely cause an upset at this year’s ceremony.
The film is a blockbuster triumph. The compelling action, incredible cinematography, remarkable visual effects and the brilliant use of tribal culture help carry the film through a simple, yet effective plot and establish the pale, bald War Boys as quite terrifying villains.
The film also shines far above its rivals in terms of production. Its staggering detail and imaginative designs make the film an intense experience and keep the audience enthralled from start to finish. From the innovative spiked vehicles, to giant lorries with flame-spitting guitars on the front, the production of Mad Max: Fury Road is untouchable in terms of detail and imagination.
The leading roles, portrayed by Tom Hardy and Charlize Theron, are also outstanding. Theron is particularly strong as the badass heroine who steals the show and does a great job of pushing the film’s feminist narrative.
I’d love to see the best reviewed film of 2015 take the award and, in my opinion, it definitely deserves it.
Without a doubt, the first five minutes of The Martian alone deserve an Oscar. Audiences are thrown straight into the action as botanist and astronaut Mark Watney (the compelling and brilliant Matt Damon) comes to terms with his abandonment on Mars. Presumed dead by all, audiences are left riveted and rooting for Watney to make contact with Earth to tell them of his survival.
The stunning visual effects of the Mars landscape feel real enough to touch, helped by the sound of familiar 70s disco tunes. It is a highly-charge film packed with laughs as well as moral quandaries.
Damon’s grit-your-teeth-and-grip-your-seat performance as Watney is so convincing that the scenes filmed on Earth with international rallies for his rescue make you want to stand up, join in and help bring him home.
The film has arrived at a time when space travel is becoming more accessible and intriguing to the common man, with the likes of Tim Peake’s expedition and plans for Virgin Galactic. It also taps into our emotional needs as humans and how even if you’re alone, you don’t have to be lonely, making it the ideal winner for the Best Picture Oscar.
Molly Mileham-Chappell is a final year journalism student at Bournemouth University.
The Revenant or, to give it its more appropriate title, Bear Grylls takes on America in the 19th century, is possibly most famous for that horrific 10 minute sequence where a bear gets up in Leonardo DiCaprio’s grill. Eh? Eh?
What truly sets this film apart from others is its brutal realism. As well as being mesmerisingly beautiful, The Revenant is a harsh battle on the senses. Its opening act is hard to watch because, for the majority of it, you’ve stopped breathing… and blinking… and lost most of the boundaries of brutality that you are willing to tolerate.
That bear scene is where the movie reaches its horrific peak, and from there it’s anchored by a horse-guts-and-all performance by DiCaprio and cinematography so pleasant it almost makes you forget what you’ve just witnessed.
The plot isn’t great, mainly because it feels like a series of overly-contrived circumstances to make DiCaprio’s experience something overwhelmingly shit, but to call this a movie about a story is to misrepresent what it is about. It’s about ambitious filmmaking that pushes the boundaries of what you experience. Every moment of cold, every bloody gargle of DiCaprio’s breathing, every bash and break feels as real as experiencing it yourself.
There are better-written movies nominated for this year’s Best Picture, but a better executed one? Not a chance.
Films like Room are incredibly rare. With its uncompromising subject matter, which takes in kidnapping and repeated sexual assault, it could easily have been a grim nightmare. However, in the hands of writer Emma Donoghue, adapting her own book, and director Lenny Abrahamson, it becomes an uplifting tale of triumph.
Jacob Tremblay, bafflingly omitted from awards shortlists, and Brie Larson are tremendous as a son and his mother, making the best of life in the worst of circumstances. Their performances are delicate and layered, lightly shielding the audience without ever hiding from the horror of the situation. The innovation of depicting the story from the point of view of Tremblay’s five-year-old character is an ingenious one that takes the film to another level of intrigue and emotion.
The film runs the gamut from white-knuckle suspense, via total devastation, on the way to a life-affirming finale. In different hands, it could’ve felt like a sanitised take on a tough issue, but Abrahamson and Donoghue are much better than that. It’s a subtle film that takes the audience on a hell of a journey.
There’s no chance that Room is going to win the Best Picture prize over the more weighty, true life stories, but it absolutely should.
This is cinema in its purest, most potent form.
Tom Beasley is the Editor of The Popcorn Muncher and a film writer published on the likes of Empire Online, Flickering Myth and What Culture.
If there’s one film that deserves Best Film at this year’s Oscars, then without a doubt it’s Tom McCarthy‘s Spotlight.
It’s a dramatic depiction of how a team of investigative journalists from the Boston Globe uncovered a gruelling history of child abuse within the Catholic Church.
It’s truly gripping right from the opening scene. Going in, I was not expecting to be as blown away as I was when I left. It’s traditional filmmaking at its best and I honestly feel that of all the films in this category, this one really does have the lasting impact a Best Picture winner should.
It’s meticulous, it’s accurate and for once it doesn’t sugarcoat what is such an important issue.
McCarthy thankfully avoided the curse of The Fifth Estate and didn’t try to sensationalise the issue and sugar coat it in order to protect the people the story is based on in the way that Bill Condon did.
Spotlight is a film that makes me truly proud to be a journalist.
Elly Rewcastle is a journalism graduate and copy editor interested in music and film.
Which film do you think should win Best Picture at the Oscars 2016? Let me know in the comments section and keep an eye on The Popcorn Muncher for more Oscars 2016 coverage.